As the offspring of music legend, Steve Earle, and the namesake of what is arguably Texas’s most revered songwriter — the late Townes Van Zandt — it’s not surprising that Justin Townes Earle has gained ground as a modern day troubadour. But the tall, slim, dapperly dressed 30-year-old has forged a musical path with legs all its own.
Still paying homage to the lyrical simplicity that his father Earle and Van Zandt made accessible and respected decades ago, the younger Earle's fully produced, well-rounded sound — horns, bluesy licks and classic session-style keys — is bridging the often wide Nashville-New York gap.
Justin Townes Earle’s musical career catapulted in 2009 with the release of his third album, Midnight at the Movies (which features a sweet, but pointed tune about his father, “Mama’s Eyes”) that coincided with a summer tour with Old Crow Medicine Show, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings.
What Earle brought to that tour (and to a growing scene) was a broad, genre-bending approach to Americana music. Bookended by two respected acts that lean heavy on bluegrass roots, Earle's rock — and sometimes punk — influences gave indie crowds something to glean from what could have easily been categorized as just another "country hootenanny."
Three years later, you'll find the same indie influence reflected in Earle's refined live show and his recorded work. Even if you typically steer clear of "Americana," there's enough "New York" in Justin Townes Earle's sound to grant it a solid look and listen.
His cover of early punk rockers The Replacements' "Can’t Hardly Wait" is a standout from his third album, and if you still haven't had enough Bruce Springsteen in 2012, thanks to the A.V. Club's Undercover Series, you can check out Earle's oustanding rugged cover of "Atlantic City."
Justin Townes Earle's cross-country Americana journey brings him back to Austin on Friday, May 4 for a night at Antone's. It's a fitting locale for a show that will at once capture the decades-old spirit of his songwriting heritage, without losing site of the New York-Nashville fusion that has helped this Earle make a name of his own.